In What Order Did Satan Tempt Jesus?
If you have ever compared Matthew’s account of Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness with Luke’s account, you quickly will notice that there is a difference in the sequence of the recorded events (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). Both Matthew and Luke agree that Satan first tested Jesus by challenging Him to turn stones to bread. However, while the two disciples of Jesus agree on the content of the next two tests, the second and third temptations recorded by Matthew are “flip-flopped” in Luke’s account. Matthew recorded that Satan’s second temptation involved him trying to persuade Jesus to throw Himself down off the pinnacle of the temple. The third temptation listed by Matthew was Satan’s attempt to get Jesus to worship him. Even though Luke mentioned the same two events, he listed them in the reverse order— Satan first desired adoration from Jesus, and then he challenged Him to throw Himself down off the pinnacle of the temple. Based upon this difference, skeptics claim we have a clear-cut discrepancy.
The problem with this allegation is that it is based upon an assumption. Those who claim that the “disorder” of temptations is a contradiction, presuppose that history always is written (or spoken) chronologically. However, common sense tells us otherwise. Open almost any world history textbook and you will see that even though most events are recorded chronologically, some are arranged topically. For example, in one chapter you may read about the European civilization in the late Middle Ages (A.D. 1000-1300). Yet, in the very next chapter you might learn about Medieval India (150 B.C.-A.D. 1400). Authors arrange textbooks thematically in order to reduce the confusion that would arise if every event in world history textbooks were arranged chronologically. Even when we rehearse life experiences to friends and family, oftentimes we speak climactically rather than chronologically. A teenager may return home from an amusement park and tell his father about all of the roller coasters he rode at Six Flags. Likely, rather than mentioning all of them in the order he rode them, he will start with the most exciting ones and end with the boring ones (if there is such thing as a “boring” roller coaster).
Had Matthew and Luke claimed to arrange the temptations of Jesus chronologically, skeptics would have a legitimate case. But, the fact of the matter is, neither Matthew nor Luke ever claimed such. Either one of the two gospel writers recorded these events in the order they happened, or both of them wrote topically. Most biblical scholars believe that Matthew was concerned more with the order of events in this story because of his use of words like “then” (4:5, Greek tote) and “again” (4:8, Greek palin). These two adverbs seem to indicate a more sequential order of the temptations. Luke simply links the events by using the Greek words kai and de (4:2, 5-6, translated “and”). [The NKJV’s translation of kai as “then” in Luke 4:5 is incorrect. It should be translated simply “and” (cf. KJV, ASV, NASV, and RSV)]. Similar to the English word “and” not having specific chronological implications, neither do the Greek words kai and de (Richards, 1993, p. 230). In short, Luke’ s account of the temptations of Jesus is arranged topically (or possibly climactically), whereas Matthew’s account seems to be arranged chronologically.
This is just one more example of an alleged Bible contradiction that has been refuted rather easily by a proper use of both “reason” and “revelation.”
Richards, Larry (1993), 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell).